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A local theme park, Mini Israel, has lent its name to a show at the Israel Museum conceived by guest curator Larry Abramson, who is a painter, teacher and an intelligent writer of catalogue introductions. His Mini Israel consists of 70 models by 45 Israeli artists shown in a single space, a mammoth effort made possible by the dimensions of many of the exhibits.
None of these models are maquettes for bigger works, though most are stand-ins for bigger issues and events. One, by Gal Weinstein, is even a symbolic plastic sculpture of a tsunami rolling onto a tropical beach. Another, by Maayan Strauss, uses Playmobil toys to re-enact the clash between police and settlers that took place at Gush Katif.
These models are not copies of reality but only symbolic of them; they do not always take an obvious stand on the issues involved. Abramson points out that the original Mini Israel Park models were replicas not just of places, but also redolent of an Israeli, Zionist spirit. Like every good Israeli writer of introductions, Abramson quotes from French philosopher Michel Foucault and his idea of heterotopia, locations outside the mainstream of social reality - "counter-sites" like rest homes, psychiatric clinics, museums, brothels, etc. - which, like these models, can be distinctly different from the sites they represent.
The illustrated Hebrew/English catalogue to this show lets each artist add a few words of his own. You can make what you like of Philip Rantzer's Cardboard Box, which contains decapitated heads, but I didn't care for his disparaging remark about the myth of Palmah girls in greatcoats and keffiyehs. Many such girls gave their lives so that Rantzer could grow up to be a conceptual artist.
All art is a form of illusion, but the better pieces on view are those which, in the clever words of Ravit Cohen Gat and Moshe Gerstel, introduce us to the reality behind the illusion. Their Next Year in Jerusalem Rebuilt, a pair of large wood and cement sculptures based on the forms of the concrete slabs soon to surround the city, are impressive in their minimalist dignity, whatever you may think of any implied criticism.
There are a number of architectural models in this show employed, via various mediums, to question the quest for utopias. In fact, there are rather too many of them. I like best the ones that are first of all effective works of art, notably Jack Jano's use of rusting, roughly cut and welded iron symbols, piled up to create a hill of abandoned Arab houses; it registers as a tactile sculptural effect before you get any political or intellectual message, which to the artist is also secondary. Abandonment and restoration is also suggested in Shira Gepstein's Hassan Bek, a large transparent model of the mosque that is one-sixth the size of the real mosque and therefore on an interesting boundary between model and reality.
Several mini-environments are actually the sets for pieces of video art. Among the commercial toys employed are Lego blocks used to depict Joshua Simon's models of the Dimona Reactor and the Shalom Tower, though you would not know what they were supposed to be without reading the captions.
One work that brought a smile to my face was an untitled collection of small Israeli boys modeled in wax and painted by Shira Zelwer; an unidealized mini-mob of larrikins in shorts, T-shirts and sandals, projecting a menacing independence.
When you finish visiting this show, pop in to the adjoining Palevsky Design Pavilion which is currently filled with paintings and sculptures by Israeli artists awarded financial "prizes" from the budget of the Ministry of Education. Apart from the overcrowded section devoted to the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Pinhas Cohen Gan, the display is nicely presented and some works are impressive. A few are beneath contempt.
AT THE Jerusalem Artists House is a cavalcade of historic photographs devoted to a riveting series of remarkable faces of artists, Zionist activists and socialists who worked in Jerusalem in the early 1920s. The show, the work of curator Nirit Shalev Khalifa, also features competent but pedestrian charcoal portraits by the artists, most of them Bezalel teachers and students. One room is devoted to the portraits of Ira Yann, a striking female student and teacher. The show is one of a series marking the centennial of the original Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. Also on view are stencils and lace produced by the new Jewish guilds of the period.
Not all the photographs were taken in Jerusalem; some are from the Bezalel extension at Ben Shemen and others were taken on outings; and one, I think, features a moustached David Ben-Gurion. The most vivid portraits are of pioneer teachers Rahel Yanait (the stern wife of Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the second president of Israel); and the incredibly beautiful young teacher Shulamit Klugai, Ben Zvi's sister. Another striking portrait is of the macho, muscular-chested Hankin, then a member of the Shomer (Watchmen). Sadly, all the picture captions are in tiny faded Hebrew type. This show was written up in East Jerusalem.
IN THE mezzanine gallery is a show of small pictures that are enamels baked onto same-size sheets of copper, the work of Dr. Martin Kieselstein (b. Transylvania, 1925), a Jerusalem Worthy and a doctor famous for his long service to geriatric patients. Kieselstein survived both Auschwitz and Dachau as a teenage slave laborer and many of his highly symbolic Holocaust subjects are autobiographical. It is hard to separate the subject matter from artistic considerations, but Kieselstein often manages to sum up a subject with a remarkable economy of means, while the winning nature of this medium lifts the subject out of the gloom. Also on view are some of his experiments with firing and fusing glass.
DOWN IN the entrance gallery, two recent graduates of the Bezalel Academy show very different paintings. Aamer Derbass (b. East Jerusalem 1972), now also a teacher, shows symbolic works combining figurative and abstract elements, in raw, almost crude color schemes. Ran Kasmy (b. Israel 1976) shows neo-symbolist "pictures," one featuring a group of young musicians making music against an over-vivid Israeli pastoral landscape. The irony is clever but the over-clinical finish suggests it was put together from the photography it resembles.